Assets of a Rust Belt city

What are Cleveland’s biggest strengths and assets?

The obvious choice here is the world’s largest supply of fresh water that sits right next to us.  So that’s a big one.  What about our city’s unmatched sustainability network (non-profits, for-profits, government officials, foundations…) and our incredibly progressive sustainability initiatives (Re-Imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland)?

I also believe that our city’s blight can be one of our strongest assets.  Our shrinking population makes Cleveland a “doable” size for a sustainability transformation.

Vacant land and abandoned buildings are resources.  Land can be remediated and turned into urban farms/gardens/public green space.  Abandoned industrial buildings can be renovated to house apartments, retail, dining, and even new industries.  For instance, we could use our old steel factories to manufacture wind turbines and become a national hub for alternative energy equipment (in addition to having the first wind turbine farm over fresh water).

How do we foster so much economic and infrastructural development when we don’t have the money as a city?  Mike Christoff had the brilliant idea of offering free rent in vacant spaces to bring in the people and the businesses, and then once they start making money, to charge a proportional rent.  Once the people are there, the development will follow.  Urban planning is also important here, to make the spaces livable and even enjoyable (E. 4th St., W. 6th St., Flats East Banks project, new waterfront).

When I asked another sustainability consultant from Detroit what she thought about Cleveland, she said she was jealous of our strong foundations (who wouldn’t be?) and our arts institutions (world class).  Other things that I would add to that list of “things to be jealous of” include our incredible healthcare, our research facilities, our affordable cost of living, our diversity, our rich history, and even our seasons.  There are loads of other things to be proud of as a city, I just can’t think of them all right now.


2 thoughts on “Assets of a Rust Belt city

  1. Great article! Great ideas also. The free rent idea could potentialy reap dividends. A sense of pride needs to replace the blight and abandonment, trash and despair. Thanks for your insight and keep up the good work.

    • Hi Kim,
      Thank you so much! I’m also a big fan of the free rent idea. They did something similar with Soho in NYC, and look what happened.

      In Soho, a lot of the post-industrial buildings were in disrepair, but many young people and artists were attracted to the free/cheap space. As they lived there, they would renovate the spaces to bring them up to code. Eventually Soho became one of the hippest parts of the city as a result.

      The same thing is happening in Ohio City, Tremont and the Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood. These old industrial buildings with large windows make for great lofts and workshops. Part of the issue, however, is remediating any toxins left behind by industry.

      Wolstein (developer of the Flats East Bank project) got state funding to remediate toxins left behind in the Flats. So, with any luck, that will allow him and other developers to make the area ready for development.

      I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting many young people in Cleveland who love this city and who are proud of our grassroots urban revival through sustainable re-development initiatives (like our EcoVillage in the Detroit Shoreway).

      I am honored to tell the stories about these initiatives to help other people be proud of our city as well.

      Thank you so much for reading and I hope you continue to let me know what you think!

      Best wishes,

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